Fact Sheet: Universal Waste

What are the universal waste regulations?

EPA's universal waste regulations streamline hazardous waste management standards for federally designated "universal wastes," which include batteries, pesticides, mercury-containing equipment and lamps. The regulations govern the collection and management of these widely generated wastes, thus facilitating environmentally sound collection and proper recycling or treatment.

These regulations also ease the regulatory burden on retail stores and others that wish to collect these wastes and encourage the development of municipal and commercial programs to reduce the quantity of these wastes going to municipal solid waste landfills or combustors. In addition, the regulations also ensure that the wastes subject to this system will go to appropriate treatment or recycling facilities pursuant to the full hazardous waste regulatory controls.

The federal universal waste regulations are set forth in 40 Code of Federal Regulations part 273. States can modify the universal waste rule and add additional universal waste(s) in individual state regulations so check with your state for the exact regulations that apply.

Who is affected by these regulations?

Small and large businesses that generate hazardous waste in the federal universal waste categories listed above can use the more streamlined requirements under the Universal Waste Rule. The rule eases the regulatory burden on businesses that generate these wastes. Specifically, the universal waste rule has streamlined requirements for:

  • Notification
  • Labeling/marking
  • Prohibitions
  • Accumulation time limits
  • Employee training
  • Response to releases
  • Offsite shipments
  • Tracking
  • Exports
  • Transportation

For example, the rule extends the amount of time that businesses can accumulate these materials on site. It also allows companies to transport the materials with a common carrier, instead of a hazardous waste transporter, and no longer requires companies to obtain a manifest.

Many industries strongly support these regulations because they have determined that easy collection of universal waste will help ensure sound environmental management. These regulations make it easier for companies to establish collection programs and participate in manufacturer take-back programs required by a number of states. Many large manufacturers and trade associations plan national and regional collection programs for their products.

Businesses that produce less than 100 kilograms (kg) or 220 pounds(lbs) of universal waste per month have the option of handling their universal waste under the universal waste regulations or as a Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator (CESQG). See 40 Code of Federal Regulations 261.5.

Communities in states that adopt this rule can work with both businesses and residents to facilitate proper recycling or disposal of universal wastes. By easing the regulatory burden on businesses, more collection sites will be available. Communities can establish collection programs or assist collection programs set up by area businesses.

Households also generate universal wastes, although they are not regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and are allowed to dispose of these wastes in the trash. While new municipal solid waste landfills are designed to handle small amounts of hazardous household wastes, these wastes can be better managed in a designated program for collection or recycling. EPA encourages residents to take these items to collection sites located at nearby businesses and other centers for proper recycling or disposal. Some states might have more stringent requirements, including banning certain wastes from the municipal incinerators and landfills.

How do these regulations apply?

Handlers of universal waste include businesses that generate and need to dispose of universal wastes; universal waste take-back programs; and universal waste collection programs.

There are two types of handlers:

  • Small Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste (SQHUW) that accumulate less than 5,000 kg (11,000 lbs) of universal waste at any one time.
  • Large Quantity Handlers of Universal Waste (LQHUW) that accumulate 5,000 kg (11,000 lbs) or more of universal waste at any one time.

Transporters of universal waste move universal waste from handlers to other handlers, destination facilities, or foreign destinations.

Destination facilities recycle, treat or dispose of universal wastes as hazardous waste (no longer universal waste). Note: this does not include facilities that only store universal waste because those facilities qualify as universal waste handlers.

For more detailed information on the applicability of the regulations, please review the technical requirements.

The basic information on universal waste is from EPA.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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